Pella Chronicle

November 2, 2012

Nutrition for healthy aging

Nancy Hamilton
Hearthstone, a Ministry of WesleyLife

Pella — It’s no surprise that nutrition plays an important role in our health and healthy aging. As we age, eating a variety of foods from all food groups can help us get the nutrients our bodies need. A healthy eating plan emphasizes fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low- or non-fat milk or milk products; includes lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.

Our bodies today have different needs from 20 and even 10 years ago, making certain nutrients especially important for good health. Older adults need more calcium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health, and this is especially true for women.

Have three servings of vitamin-D-fortified low- or fat-free milk or yogurt each day. Other calcium-rich foods include fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark-green leafy vegetables, and canned fish with soft bones. If you take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, choose one that contains vitamin D.

Many people older than 50 do not get enough vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 helps keep your nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, which makes people tired and weak. Fortified cereal, lean meat and some fish and seafood are sources of vitamin B12. Ask your doctor or a registered dietitian if you need a vitamin B12 supplement.

Eat more fiber-rich foods to help stay regular. Fiber also can help decrease your risk for heart disease, control your weight and prevent type 2 diabetes. Eat whole-grain breads and cereals and more beans and peas. Fruits and vegetables also can provide fiber.

Increasing potassium along with reducing sodium (salt) may lower your risk of high blood pressure. Fruits, vegetables and low- and fat-free milk and yogurt are good sources of potassium. Also, select and prepare food with little or no added salt.

Foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol help reduce your risk of heart disease. Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Check the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels for total fat and saturated fat.

How many calories do you need?

Most older adults need fewer calories than in their younger years. The number of calories you need each day depends on your age, gender and activity level.

-Women age 51 and older:

-Not active: 1,600

-Moderately active: 1,800

-Active: 2,000-2,200

-Men age 51 and older:

-Not active: 2,000

-Moderately active: 2,200-2,400

-Active: 2,400-2,800

Nutrition and physical activity go hand-in-hand for healthy aging. Balancing physical activity and a healthful diet is your best recipe for wellness. Set a goal to be physically active at least 30 minutes of every day. You can break up your physical activity into 10-minute sessions throughout the day, too.

If you are inactive, start with a few minutes of activity such as walking, and gradually increase the time as you become stronger. Check with your health-care provider before beginning a new physical activity program.

Another important part of nutrition for healthy aging is making sure food is prepared and stored correctly. Remember to wash your hands often before, during and after meal preparation. Make sure your refrigerator is set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not cross-contaminate foods–keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate and cook food to proper temperatures.

Together, safe preparation, good nutrition and physical exercise form a great recipe for healthy aging.

Source: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Nancy Hamilton is Executive Director of Hearthstone, a Ministry of WesleyLife. To contact Nancy, please call 641-628-9857, email or visit